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Cartoon isn't laughing matter

June 04, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

The world spins on the axis of prediction.

For years, Jeanne Dixon, Dionne Warwick and Miss Cleo have taken their turns making cosmic guesses on how future events - both national and personal - will pan out. As hokey as they seem, a lot of people put stock and money in these fancy prancings.

In sports, daily predictions are called "odds" and are a driving force behind the interest of some fans.

But recently, a pretty creditable premonition came from a most unusual place. It was Tank McNamara, the Sunday comic strip which appeared on May 12.

The message was "Baseball is doomed."

He might be right, but not for the obvious, or the most popular, reasons.

The strip revolved around a family in the stands during a San Francisco Giants game. In the first two frames, a mother and father watch the game while the kids head to video arcades and other attractions on the stadium concourse.

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In the third frame, the father tells the kids to sit and watch Barry Bonds hit because he, "will be in the Hall of Fame and you can tell your kids that you saw him play."

Bonds proceeds to hit a 500-foot home run to bring the father out of his seat. The kids are unimpressed.

"Is Barry Bonds done now?" one asks.

"This is a cool place except that this dumb game takes up most of the space," says the other.

In the final frame, the set-up from the mother is "Baseball is doomed."

The father's line didn't have to be funny - and probably wasn't - but the message was there.

Baseball is doomed.

Forget the ongoing rhetoric about labor contracts, contraction, steroids, rising ticket prices, free agency, enormous player salaries. All are major problems the owners will address in myriad meetings over the next few months. It's like putting a tourniquet on a bloodletting or bailing out the Titanic with a shot glass.

They are major reasons why the Grand Ol' Game isn't all that grand anymore. It is evident in attendance figures in the Majors all the way down to Municipal Stadium.

But baseball's downfall will come from more of a grassroots level: today's youth don't have an appreciation of the game.

And that's because today's fathers don't give their sons and daughters an appreciation for the game. As years and decades pass, the patience for the strategy and detail that is baseball has eroded.

Many complain the attention span for today's youth lasts about as long as a television highlight; it might be only seconds less than today's parents.

The hustle and bustle of today's world doesn't allow much time to take in a three-hour game. In some cases, parents don't spend that much time with their kids, let alone at a baseball game.

That's where the tradition that is baseball's foundation is lost.

In the pre-Kennedy days, afternoon baseball was the norm. It was the perfect setting for fathers to take wide-eyed children to see the manicured lawn of a stadium and point out the finer points of the game. Kids sat still and watched with amazement.

The advent of television gave kids - now baby boomers - the chance to see the game in the comfort of their home. Still, going to the park, getting the hot dog, yelling for your favorite player and hoping, praying and trying to guess what is going to happen next made it a fun experience that kept most kids on the edge of their seats, instead of out of them.

Baseball's multitude of problems in the '90s - and computers - killed the interest of the common fan. Along with it came the death of one of the rites of passion.

You can't learn about the game and how to love it unless you are shown how.

Now, with all those gimmicks that attract attention, ballparks fall somewhere between circuses and carnivals. The younger generation is at the park for everything but the game. Thanks to cell phones, most grownups are into Ma Bell instead of Pac Bell.

They've taken away from a game which provided the 19th and 20th century enough heroes, legends and memories to shape the life of many a child and the grownups of the future.

It's a shame. What might be worse, it took a Sunday cartoon strip, and not baseball's hierarchy, to figure out and predict a piece of Americana might be doomed for the "tank."




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 2310 or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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